This section is from the book "A Manual Of Weeds", by Ada E. Georgia. Also available from Amazon: A Manual Of Weeds.
Introduced. Perennial. Propagates by secondary underground bulbs, by bulblets produced on the flowering stalk, and rarely by seeds.
Time of bloom: Late May to June.
Seeds: Seldom produced. Aerial bulblets ripen at the same time as winter wheat and rye and are harvested with them.
Range: Massachusetts to South Carolina, westward to the Mississippi River.
Habitat: Prefers sandy loam; fields, meadows, and pastures.
In localities where it is at all common, this is one of the most injurious of weeds and most difficult to destroy. Its presence in pastures where dairy stock is grazing is ruinous to the quality of butter and cheese produced, and any food prepared with garlic-flavored milk is unpalatable. The very flesh of animals that have eaten the plant is permeated with its odor and taste. It is also a pest in wheat fields. In the three states of Maryland, Virginia, and Tennessee, where the weed is extremely troublesome, the loss to the wheat crop alone is estimated by a government report to be more than a million dollars annually. The bulblets are about the same size and weight as a grain of wheat, making it impossible to clean them out at harvest time even with the best of sieves and fans. But if infested grain is kept for several months and subjected to freezing cold, the bulblets dry and shrivel, becoming light enough to be fanned out with a good machine. Experiments have been conducted in the seed laboratory at Washington with drying machines such as are used at elevators for the drying of commercial grains. It was demonstrated that the specific gravity of the wheat grains was increased by the process and that of the bulblets decreased, enabling the crop to be cleaned and made marketable without loss of time. Flour is spoiled when even a small number of Garlic "kernels" are ground with the wheat. Not only so, but a moist, sticky coating is formed on the rollers that crush the grains, compelling stoppage of the mill so that the machinery may be cleaned. In mills that make stone-ground flour the damage is still greater, for there it is found that the taint can be entirely removed only by redressing the buhrstones. (Fig. 43.)
The plants are one to three feet tall, springing from small, ovoid, membranous-coated bulbs. Leaves slim, deep green, hollow, round in cross section, borne below the middle of the slender flowering stalk, which bears at its top an erect, dense cluster or umbel of small, pinkish purple flowers, sometimes nearly white, each flower having six pointed perianth segments with a stamen inserted at base; pedicels threadlike, often nearly an inch long. Below the flower-head are two papery, pointed bracts which soon fall away. As the flowers wither, their places are taken by aerial bulblets, each about the size of a wheat kernel and tipped with a "whisker," or filament, nearly an inch long. There may be twenty-five or thirty to a hundred bulblets in a seed-head. Lest it should not be enough, the plant works below ground too; secondary bulbs, called "cloves" or "toes," develop at the base of the old bulb, and in the fall form thick tufts of young plants which remain green all winter, ready to repeat the cycle of growth in the spring. New infestations are usually effected by transportation of the bulblets, and the purchase of strawberry plants from infested localities has been known to start a new "station " by means of the tiny underground bulbs or "cloves."
Fig. 43. -Field Garlic (Allium vine-ale). X J.
Hand-pulling just at flowering time is a good method if the plants are not too numerous to make it impracticable. The ground must be very soft and care must be taken to leave no "cloves" behind that will render the work of no account. Quicker and more effective is the use of crude carbolic acid applied with a common machine oil-can; a few drops on a plant or a small sprinkle on a tuft will kill them all. The acid should be very little, if at all, diluted. This treatment may be given before the grass has started or even before the ground has thawed in the spring, when the green Garlic tufts show plainest. If used during the grazing season, stock must be kept from the fields until rain has washed the poison into the soil. This method seems expensive in time and labor, but it is not more so than the application of Paris green to potato plants; it is certainly the best way of removing the pest from lawns, and was the one used to clean out a very abundant stand of it which at one time impaired the beauty of the eight acres of greensward surrounding the White House at Washington.
In cultivated ground the task of extermination can seldom be completed in one season. When undertaking to destroy Field Garlic with the plow, the work should be done as late in the fall as practicable, the depth of the furrow being so gauged as to bring as many as possible of the bulbs to the surface or near it, where they will alternately freeze and thaw. Some plants will survive, of course, to be fought in the same way with early spring cultivation, followed by a hoed crop, well tilled until midsummer; this in turn to be followed by a crop of clover. Liming and fertilizing the soil helps better plants to crowd out the weed.
In infested pastures, sheep may be induced to keep the Garlic nibbled down by salting a number of tufts from time to time so as to overcome their natural dislike to its taste. If deprived of leaf growth for an entire season, the underground bulbs wither and rot. In some instances success has been attained in mellow soil by loosening it with the plow and turning in hogs to root out and eat the bulbs. It should be remembered that the meat of any animal which has eaten Garlic takes the flavor and is unmarketable. When wanted for that purpose, they must be withdrawn from such grazing and fed for several days on a different diet.